Thursday, February 18, 2010

A First Father's Story: After the Reunion

This is the final part of Joe Sanchez' account of the adoption of his daughter Margaret, his search, and his reunion. The picture is of Joe today.

IS THIS ALL THERE IS?
I left our first meeting thinking that this was the somewhat awkward beginning to what would eventually be a very close friendship. Since then (six months ago), I have not seen Margaret. We continue to exchange e-mails, but hers are mostly about her children’s activities. Talk of a future meeting has always been initiated by either Charlotte or me, but nothing has materialized. On the contrary, a recent e-mail indicated that Margaret and her children would be spending a few days in Orlando, which is about 60 miles from where I live. She does not even hint at the possibility of getting together for a couple of hours.

I can understand that adoptees or birth parents who have experienced difficult and even painful reunions will probably think that I should be thankful for any kind of relationship with Margaret, even if it’s limited to what I have described. My problem is that I have no clue as to how Margaret feels about us. Prior to finding her, I spent a lot of time trying to anticipate how Margaret would react. I did not give much thought to what my reaction would be. Driving home from our reunion, I realized that she had become extremely important and I still don’t know why. If I had children, perhaps I would realize that what I’m feeling is parental love. I do have many close friends and I know that I want at least that kind of relationship with Margaret. I’d like for us to be comfortable enough to pick up the phone and share news, worries, joys, concerns and plain gossip with each other. Her e-mails consist mostly of anecdotes about her children, but nothing that approximates an expression of emotion in her part.

Neither Charlotte nor I think of ourselves as Margaret’s parents. Our parents are the people who raise us and I would never expect a 45-year old woman to think of me as her father just because we share DNA. But isn’t there some place between parenthood and being relegated to the level of an Internet acquaintance?

It would be easier to accept the status quo if I knew why Margaret does not want to go beyond it. But as much as she may physically resemble me (and she does), the woman is an enigma. I have never had trouble relating to people; some of my friendships go all the way back to elementary school. But yet my birth daughter is a mystery to me and to my family. I have three siblings and about a dozen nephews and nieces–all of them were thrilled to hear that I had found Margaret. For fear of overwhelming her, I asked my relatives not to contact Margaret all at once. Only three of them have contacted her; she treats them with the same reserved politeness she uses with me.

Interestingly, Charlotte has been more accepting of the situation than I am. She feels that we’re fortunate that Margaret wants us in her life at all; if our daughter is satisfied with seeing us once a year, so be it. To me, that's not good enough. I don’t know why there should be such a difference in our reactions to Margaret. Is it because I’m the one who tried to find her for so many years? Is it a cultural or personality distinction–as a Latino, I'm more inclined to express my feelings and Charlotte is a WASP who is more reserved and cautious in her relationships. Margaret may look like me, but maybe she has inherited Charlotte’s personality.

Some answers will come if and when I get to know Margaret better. Given my age (66) and the paucity of our contacts, I fear that we may never go past the present.

I just don't know if there is anything I can do to draw her out.

17 comments :

  1. I never felt like this either. I am my daughter's mother. I don't think I ever stopped being her mother. I don't think it's possible, it's like trying to stop being caucasian or female or Australian.

    I don't relate to this at all.

    I certainly don't want to speculate why she took distance because it could have happened anyway.

    This is very sad.

    I'm sorry.

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  2. Thanks for telling your story Joe.

    You don't describe asking Charlotte how she feels about you and Margaret, if she wants to be having this email contact or is just being polite. You say as a Latino you're more inclined to express your feelings but you don't describe where you've done so. Except for here, of course.

    When Charlotte told you she's going to Orlando I can't help but wonder if you've mentioned getting together somehow and she said no.

    I'm smiling as I say this but 6 months is not a very long time to know someone, especially just through email, so try and be patient. Enjoy what you have for now and as time goes on you'll discover what, if anything, can draw Charlotte out. Perhaps time alone is all it will take : )

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  3. Without going into a lot of detail, which I will do on the CUB list if you want to bring this discussion over there, although my earlier search journey started years ago and very differently, I am currently in a situation very similar to yours.

    I had a two year email relationship with my son, met him and his wife for dinner once in 2004 which I thought went well, but then did not hear back from him for two years. Then he started replying again, and the email relationship has gotten more frequent, but he ignores any suggestions we get together. I have only made a couple. And yes, I live in fear that I will say the wrong thing and he will vanish again.

    Mike is 41, lives about 2 hours from me. I would love to see him again in person, but know it has to be when he is ready, not when I want it.

    On the plus side, he sends me tons of pictures of places he and his wife hike, Halloween, vacations etc. They are going to New Orleans to run in his first marathon next week, and pictures have been promised:-) It seems like a safe and non-verbal way of sharing his life, of letting me know what he sees and finds beautiful or interesting.

    I too do not know why he fades in and out like the Cheshire Cat, but I have come to the conclusion "why ask why"? and just accept that he is doing what he has to do. Because of the way his adoptive mother was, he is very wary of me, which I understand.

    Rather than asking or agonizing I try to see things from his viewpoint, and to have patience. That is the one lesson I have learned, endless patience and unconditional love, that does not seek reciprocation. It ain't easy, but for me, very slowly, it is paying off, Since we are both great cat people, I can use this analogy; it is like trying to get a stray cat to trust you, takes silence, patience, gentleness, and no surprise or aggressive moves. Also lots of cat food:-) For years I have sent small gifts for Christmas and birthday whether he replied or not, and now he thanks me and tells me how much he likes what I send.

    Six months is a very short time. I would say don't crowd your daughter, just accept and be grateful for what she can give. Listen to Charlotte, she seems to have a better handle on patience. Remember that you do not know what is going on in your daughter's life or in her head, and that she may not feel she knows you well enough to share why, or she may be a very reserved person who does not deal with anyone that way. You are still strangers to her, that she is trying to figure out how to fit into her life. Give her space.

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  4. Hesitant to wade in here except as a bystander. From what I've gleaned, though, Campbell's onto something. Just let it be what it is; pushing could send it off the rails.

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  5. Some relationships are easy, most are difficult and take time to build. While I certainly would have asked if she would like to have lunch or otherwise get together while she was nearby, it is probably best to let her take the lead in the relationship, no matter how that may feel hurtful. Adoptees need to be in control of the situation, as they were certainly not in control when they were adopted. The scars are lifelong and it is the unusual person who seamlessly fits back into the family that would have been hers/his.

    No matter the circumstances of Margaret being relinquished, no matter how you were not in control, no matter what, the adopted person feels the "being given up" as abandonment and rejection on a non-verbal level. It's something that we all have had to live with.

    Adoption is always painful.

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  6. I'm no expert but I have been working on reunion for 20 years. So here's my a**vice. You suggest to her that you'd like to meet her for lunch in Orlando, if it works for her. Let her know you'd like more contact. But don't pressure her. That she's sharing info about her kids is great. They are her focus and an opportunity for you to know about their lives is a blessing for you. Appreciate what you've got and build on it gradually.

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  7. I'd love to hear from Charlotte. Does she read this blog?

    My son's father is the same age as Joe. I have given both him and my son all information I had, neither is interested in contacting the other. Sad for both, neither is a bad guy. But they have to work things out, or not, for themselves.

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  8. Hi Joe!

    I think it is wonderful that you have been reunited with your daughter and I am thankful that neither she or her children have been affected by the heart condition. I am sure she was/is thankful to have that information.

    Just my gut feeling based on what you have said, I'm guessing her attitude is just her personality and nothing personal towards you or Charlotte. Some people are just very aloof...I've encountered several people in my life who I have been convinced didn't like me for some unknown reason and then once I know them better, I realize that is how they treat everyone.

    Maybe as time goes by, you could interject little things here and there that are more personal and see how she receives them. ???

    I wish you all the best!

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  9. Again, thank you Joe for sharing your story. We hear so little from the fathers.

    I am 14 years in reunion. I remember after the first year, those in my support group telling me that a year is nothing, give it ten. Not to discourage you, but time does make a huge difference. At least your daughter has left the door open. Remain hopeful!

    Best to you.

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  10. Oh, Denise, Joe, everyone...this time lost is so sad.

    Time is not everything, but it is something. Every year we are not in contact with our children is a year/month/week we can never get back. I'm sorry for our children, and I'm sorry for us.

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  11. The blog was done with the full knowledge and agreement of the birth/first mother involved, Charlotte. She agreed to letting us use the photograph with both Joe and her.

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  12. Thanks for your story Joe.

    One thing that struck me about your story is that you say you don't understand what your daughter is thinking and yet there is no mention as to whether you have actually asked her.

    For example, when your daughter mentioned going to Orlando, did you even ask about meeting up? Your daughter may have thought that you might not be able to make it or that she may be imposing on you so she may have mentioned the Orlando trip to see if you were interested.

    If you didn't say that you could meet up, or that you didn't show an interest in doing so, she may have taken that the wrong way. Your daughter may have been making the suggestion to see if you would be interested. That is what it sounds like to me. It sounds like she was waiting for you to do the asking.

    In future, if your daughter does mention another trip relatively near by, then let her know that you can see her - otherwise, she may assume the wrong thing.

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  13. My son has reunited with myself and his father. Our reunion has been very successful. It is now over 5 years old.

    One thing I would say is don't rush things. As some have said here, Margaret is probably still trying to figure out where you fit in her life.

    Let her set the pace but offer suggestions about meeting up. However, do not pressure her into anything or you may lose her.

    My son took 2 years just to think about having a reunion with me. As hard as that was, I respected his wishes to back off for that amount of time.

    After 2 years, I approached him again. He was 25 and was more willing to start communication.
    First it was e-mails for another 6 months, then phone calls. He spent time with me first before he started communication with his father as he wanted to be sure that I was ok with him reuniting with his father.

    We eventually met almost a year later (making it 3 years total of waiting) but it was worth it.

    He gave me a huge hug and told me that he really appreciated my patience for letting him have the time and space to sort out his stuff. We are now the best of friends.

    Don't push too hard.

    Take an interest in her children - they are obviously very important to her and she is sharing that with you. That is her way of opening up to you.

    They are your grandchildren after all.

    You could ask Margaret if you could send them presents or arrange a special day out with them to somewhere nice. That seems the way to go - but make it a suggestion and always let her know that she is the one that decides, not you.

    That has worked well for me and my son's father. It is hard at first but it is worth it in the long run.

    My son's father now goes camping and skiing with our son. However, it took the better part of 4 years to get to that.

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  14. Lorraine,

    I was not questioning whether or not Charlotte gave permission for her picture to be used. That never even crossed my mind.

    I would just be interested in hearing her point of view if she is reading this, as there are always two viewpoints.

    It seems pretty unanimous to go slow and have patience. Also the idea that her telling Joe she and the grandkids would be in the area did seem like an opportunity for him to ask, "could we get together then?"

    Sharing about her kids, his grandkids, is a wonderful thing. Many surrendering parents never get to know or hear anything about grandkids they will probably never meet, so that is another thing to be grateful for.

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  16. I just stumbled over this as I contemplate meeting my birth mother for the second time. I'll give you my insight from the other side... adoptee's grow up not knowing truly who they are nor why they weren't wanted... no-matter how many reassuring words are given by your parents the deed is done and (speaking for myself) trust comes very hard. Adoptee's learn to say the right thing to not expose emotions and not risk further hurt or abandonment. When you wonder why your daughter is being distant, you must understand that she has grown up with an understanding of the world that you will never know. The most basic fact she learned was that people leave and that applies to absolutely everyone.

    As you get older you can understand and appreciate the situation the birth parent was in and even feel bad for them, but that scared kid will always be present... when you meet your kid you are meeting both an adult and a child. Adoptee's feelings are often suppressed to avoid hurting an adoptive parent and as such you must expect many unresolved feelings.

    The adult part knows how to be polite and holds no ill will, appreciating the tough situation you found yourself in but the kid is still hurt, confused and angry...

    I can't tell you how these feelings get resolved as I'm still figuring that out myself, but you need to appreciate it from the other side...

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  17. If you come back to this blog, thank you Anonymous, for posting your thoughts because you summed up what every adoptee deals with so well. My daughter and I had an up and down relationship for years and only near the very end of her life (she committed suicide) did I feel she was able to understand her conflicted feelings and thus actions, towards me.

    We actually understand all that you say, but lord, it is hard to be pummeled and rejected and try to still be understanding and accepting. After a while, there is only so much hurt we are willing to handle...if you can I suggest you tell your natural parents what you have written here.

    And good luck!

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